SSV is happy to present a preview of Michelle Browne’s newest book, After the Garden. It will be published in 2014. We’re happy to release a series of the upcoming novel and give our readers a taste of what’s to come! A segment will be released on Saturday. Keep an eye out and read along with us.
~ After the Garden ~
A young woman is experiencing memories of The Time Before. She and some other Bearers are trying to solve the riddle of their past and stay under the radar, but a certain fanatical cult may have other ideas. There’s a chance that love might complicate things, but in a world of ruin, poverty, and decadence, it might also be her undoing…
Ezeriah frowned at the sound of music from the courtyard. He reclined on the finest silk cushions, one of his Magdalenes sitting alert beside him. She was shapely, young, and fierce; she had been a recent choice, her mother almost reluctant to give her daughter up. Ezeriah knew the girl’s mother was probably one of the music makers, he let it go. Temptation was everywhere, and just because music was a string of irritating tones to him, didn’t mean others weren’t entranced by it.
Lust, except in very controlled circumstances, had to be reined in. Even he, immortal angel, could be tempted. He shuddered, thinking of the demoness, and steeled his soul.
Still, there had been unrest. He could only channel their impure hungers, their lust and need for music, into chanting and prayer for so long. And more, there had been muttering, of late. He looked over at his Magdalene and raised the left corner of his mouth. To some, it would have seemed like an expression of amusement, but this girl was cunning, far more than her fourteen years suggested, and she knew what it meant. Find out what’s going on, said his body language. For good measure, Ezeriah reached within her mind, used the high language of ceremony to impress his point.
[Investigate, my Magdalene. Thou didst say thou wouldst prove thy worth to me if I allowed thee to join with these holy sisters.]
The girl fumbled, her eyes widening in fear, but he sifted through her brain (how crude, simple, like an animal’s) and stroked the the pleasure centre. He saw her quiver, the spasm that passed through her fabric-shielded thigh, the momentary arching of the back.
[That is the holy bliss of following the commands of the Untainted One.] He intensified it for just a moment, and slowly withdrew his mind from hers. She rushed off like a greyhound.
A few moments later, the girl was back, dragging her mother in by the arm. The woman had had her daughter late in life, and she was grey-haired already.
“She was making a commotion,” said the girl. Her voice was flat, but an eyelid twitched uncertainly. Ezeriah watched her. Despite her fervour, he sensed clear unease at the thought of seeing her mother punished. It subsided as she made cool calculations about her position. Ezeriah approved.
The woman tore her arm out of her daughter’s grasp and threw herself to the floor at Ezeriah’s feet. “My saviour, spare my daughter, I beg thee! She is too young for a holy maiden.”
“Woman, this position is one of great honour. May I remind you that it was your daughter herself who came forward?” He kept his voice at the level of gentle chiding. The woman lifted her head in disbelief, anger crossing her features and making them hard, deepening the creases.
“Kata is too young! She doesn’t know what’s best yet!”
Ezeriah looked down at her with gravitas and pity in his face and manner, but he was already inside her dissident mind, plucking the strings of pain and stimulating warning spasms in her back. Sure enough, he sensed the touch of demons in her. It was early, the corruption; but he felt a vague regret in realising the cost of another purging.
“The Untainted One will punish you,” he intoned. “Thou hast sinned.” He lifted his hands to his chin and twisted the fingers together in the complex ceremonial gesture to indicate a calling upon higher powers. He reached into her mind and killed her.
It was not a painless death; with her last reflexive movements, the woman’s bladder emptied and the back of her robe was soiled. The eyes stared at the world unseeing as she twitched a few final times, then lay still. The Magdalene flinched as the woman curled and writhed.
“Go fetch one of the Unearthers, Magdalene,” said Ezeriah softly. He drew his mind across hers, soothing the temptation and pain away. “You have proven yourself. Now the body of this sinner must be disposed of.”
“No need to cushion me. I know she gave me life, but she had to pay for her impiety,” said the Magdalene severely, and Ezeriah knew he had chosen well.
The rest of the day would be required to soothe the flock with doctrine, to send his Magdalenes around with comfort, and explain why one member of the Order had gone missing. That night, he would take the new Magdalene to his bed, and seal her ordination within the sisterhood.
It was the least he could do.
Mealworm larvae, fried and combined with a basic salad, were the main course for supper. Eva pushed her plate away delicately; Kerrick noted with amusement that she had devoured every salad leaf and left nearly all of the mealworms on her plate. “I’m full, thanks; may I be excused?”
“I’d like to see a few more of those mealworms disappear first,” Karine replied. “You need the protein.” Reluctantly, Eva speared three with her fork and lifted them into her mouth. She chewed fast and swallowed gingerly.
“I don’t know why you hate them,” remarked Chris, “they’re nice and crisp.”
“It’s not the texture she objects to, Chris,” Hamza said. “Next time, Eva, I’ll make it steak tartare, instead of larvae.”
“At least it would be easy to prepare,” muttered Kerrick. The others laughed, but Callaghn glanced furtively at the others and cleared his throat. He twitched, but managed to speak.
“Speaking of raw food, any word on what that guy wanted with the fertilized spider eggs? That Jared guy said something about the request…”
Karine mollified him immediately. “I know Jared; he’s a cousin of mine. He’s another silk worker, remember? You saw him at the last trading fair, six months ago.”
“Oh, yes,” said Callaghn, placing a hand over his brow. “It’s just—I heard the most awful rumours.”
“I—an old acquaintance.”
“Someone I would know?”
Callaghn shot him a black look. “Not unless you were a—” he couldn’t say the words. He never could. The air around him tensed, and the others drew back, giving his secrets room. “Anyway, I heard somewhere that the Order’s head has the most disgusting dishes on a nightly basis. This could be a bit of vicious gossip, but I’ve heard he likes everything raw.”
“Ugh,” Eva interrupted. “No, not really? I mean, the legs are nice, but anything else, well—”
A grin on Callaghn’s face, the jack-o-lantern grin that spread from ear to ear almost maliciously. “Yup, I hear Ezeriah has a taste for the most delicate meats, and I’m not talking about the tarsal cuts.”
“I don’t imagine it would be the hearts, and the brains aren’t substantial.” This was Karine. “Eyeballs, maybe? They’d be interesting, anyway.”
“Okay, now I am so leaving the table,” Eva said, jumping up.
“Thanks,” muttered Chris. His arms and legs tangled like a bamboo wood chime as he followed her, stumbling over the couch. “Wait up, Eva!”
The others brought their plates to the sink, and Kerrick watched as Callaghn cleaned the dishes. He didn’t miss the longing sigh Callaghn let out, glancing in the direction of Eva’s room, but he ignored it. Hamza was looking dark at the mention of the Order, and a game of chess would be just the thing to get both of their minds out of the shadows.
Check out Michelle Browne’s website for more information on the author and her work.